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ILO REPORT ON BURMA 99-05-21 (2/4) (r)

Geneva, 21 May 1999

Report of the Director-General to the members of the Governing Body on

Measures taken by the Government of Myanmar following the recommendations of
the Commission of Inquiry established to examine its observance of the Forced
Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) 




22. In a communication of 3 May 1999, the Government of the United States
indicated that members of the US Embassy in Yangon (Rangoon): 

 ... have met personally, as recently as January 1999, with villagers in
Division (Burman), Irrawaddy Division  (Burman), and in the Chin, Kachin, and
Shan States (minorities). Villagers freely and openly told our Embassy that
they, and every household in their villages, continue to be forced to
contribute family members for forced labor. Single member households comprised
of aged widows or widowers are subject to the same corvée. (The USG
that family breadwinners sometimes feel obliged to fulfil the forced labor
quota by offering up children, aged relations, and other "least productive"
members; a development which compounds the level of human suffering.) Members
of households who resist the exaction of forced labor are subject to beatings
or economic deprivation. 

One feature of forced labor in Burma is the capriciousness with which it is
sometimes exacted. This is a function of  several factors including, inter
alia, the attitude of the local military commander, and how many
projects are within a walking distance of up to several days. In December
members of our Embassy spoke with villagers in the Chin state who volunteered
that they were victims of both forced labor and porterage. The villagers added
that, with regard to the latter, soldiers had the habit of appearing without
warning and hauling off people at random to carry military supplies for
indefinite periods of time. One middle-aged woman also divulged, in the
relative privacy of her house, that Burmese soldiers visited the village to
carry off girls for the night, raped them, and then released them to find
way back home the next morning.

Finally, the military have been instructed to produce the food and supplies
required for their own livelihood. In reality, however, they continue to
the closest villages to furnish these goods, which are derived from the
villagers' labor, without regard for what this leaves the villagers to live

23. Another government indicated that in compiling its report in reply to the
Director-General's request for information, it had "sought the views of
individuals and organizations from all over Burma/Myanmar", which had given "a
number of first-hand examples of forced labour dating from the ten months
between start July 1998 and end April 1999". Examples mentioned will be
reflected in section (2) below.

24. The World Confederation of Labour transmitted a note of May 1999 by
International on its concerns at the 87th International Labour Conference, in
which it is noted that:

The Governing Body of the ILO, at its meeting in March 1999, expressed its
dissatisfaction with the lack of action to comply with the Inquiry's
recommendations by the Government of Myanmar.

Myanmar's military Government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC),
routinely seizes thousands of ethnic minority civilians, including women and
children, to work against their will and without pay to build so-called
"development projects" such as roads and military installations. Members of
Shan, Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities living in the east of the country
bordering Thailand are forced to "contribute" their labour. Many spend so much
of their time working for the military that they cannot support themselves and
their families. 

Earlier this year Amnesty International interviewed over 100 ethnic minority
civilians who had recently fled to Thailand --almost every one of them
that they had been compelled by SPDC troops to clear forests, build roads and
military barracks, and even cultivate crops to feed the military.


Although forced labour has decreased in central Myanmar, it is still being
reported on a large scale in the seven ethnic minority states which surround
the central Burman plain. SPDC troops usually contact the village headman for
labourers, who then organize a rotation system whereby each family must
one person for a project. Teenaged children are frequently sent to do forced
labour because their parents must earn a living for the family and cannot
the time. The length of time spent per month varies from place to place,
but it
usually interferes with the family's ability to support itself.

Yet the Government claims that these civilians contribute their labour
voluntarily as part of their civic duty, an assertion which is contradicted by
the hundreds of forced labourers who have given testimonies to Amnesty

25. A great number of interviews referred to by the ICFTU in its submission
conducted by Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) staff between December 1998 and
April 1999 with villagers in Nyaunglebin District of Pegu Division and those
who have fled the area indicates that there has been no decrease in forced
labour in Nyaunglebin District since mid-1998, and in fact many villagers have
experienced an increase in forced labour and demands for the associated cash
fees. This is consistent with information gathered from other regions of Kayin
(Karen) and Kayah States by KHRG. 

(2) Forms of labour and services requisitioned

     (a) Portering, military camp work and other work in support of the

26. The ICFTU has submitted a considerable number of orders addressed to
village heads by military officers (or, in a few cases, by a Village Peace and
Development Council, referring to an order given by a military officer).
Several dozens of these, addressed to village heads in Thaton, Pa'an, Toungoo,
Dooplaya and Papun Districts of Kayin (Karen) State and dated between August
1998 and February 1999, order a number of "servants", "rotation servants" or
"volunteer workers" to be sent without fail; it is often specified that if the
village head fails to comply it will be entirely his or her responsibility; in
a case where one worker from a village had "returned without permission", the
village head was ordered to send himself immediately 24 kilograms of pork or
fine money of the value of the pork as well as to come himself "today with one
person to take his place as a volunteer worker"; the order indicates that "the
village head and the village will be severely punished if they fail".(15)  In
some cases the tasks to be performed are not mentioned in the orders; in
others, it is specified that the persons to be sent are to work as porters, to
repair a military camp or to act as messengers for the military. In most
the length of the assignment is not mentioned; in others, a number of days is
indicated; sometimes it is specified that workers have to bring their own

27. Some 40 documents submitted by the ICFTU contain information gathered in
interviews conducted and reports published by the Federation of Trade
Unions --
Burma (FTUB) and a number of non-governmental organizations that give details
of hundreds of cases in which forced labour was exacted between August and
December 1998 and in 1999 for portering, military camp work, sentry duty and
other work in support of the military all over Kayin (Karen) State, in Kayah
State, Pegu Division, Arakan State, Shan State, Chin State and Tanintharyi
(Tenasserim) Division, in conditions similar to those set out in paragraphs
to 388 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry. Details provided often
include the designation of the military units and/or camps and the names of
military officers involved, as well as those of villagers and of individual
victims.(16)  In a number of cases, forced labour is reported to have been
imposed in  circumstances of extreme brutality, involving the destruction of
villages, torture, rape, the maiming and killing of exhausted, sick or wounded
porters and (in one case) of a non-cooperative village head, and the use of
civilians, including women and children, as mine shields.

28. According to the Amnesty International note, which was submitted by the
World Confederation of Labour:(17)  

Porters are often beaten if they become too weak to carry their loads and
cannot keep up with the military column. One 42-year-old Shan farmer who had
sought refuge in Thailand told Amnesty International that he had been taken as
a porter for ten days in October 1998 by SPDC troops and forced to carry
ammunition. Because he was given so little food, he became weak and could no
longer walk. A soldier slapped him across the face several times, catching his
finger in the porter's left eye. He managed to escape by rolling down the
mountainside and hiding in the forest nearby. Eventually he made his way back
home but was too frightened to seek medical treatment. As a result of his
injury he has permanently lost the sight in one eye.

29. According to a report submitted in January 1999(18)  by the United Nations
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, throughout
the SPDC military are reported to have been taking porters from the main towns
throughout central and southern Shan State, where the Shan resistance is
operating. The SPDC had been sending out regular military patrols from its
bases around the area, each time demanding groups of porters from the civilian
population. The households provided porters on a rotation basis, and if
could not go, they were made to pay 8,000-10,000 kyats to hire a replacement.

30. In reply to the Director-General's request for information, a government
indicated that sources from all over Myanmar reported that forced labour of
kinds described in paragraphs 300 to 388 of the Commission's report continues.
Last dry season saw relatively muted fighting between the army and ethnic
insurgents. As a result, demands for porters to help in military operations
over the past ten months appear to have been fairly mild. But there were
numerous instances of the military demanding labour to carry equipment and
goods to and from army camps and in construction and maintenance work. The
following examples are quoted: 

* Kayin (Karen) State. According to a first-hand report, households in
township were forced to provide      porters for military operations against
Karen insurgents and to provide labour routinely for army camps, including
carrying water over long distances. 

* Kayah State. It was reported that civilians found to have travelled outside
restricted zones were rounded up to serve as porters and that villagers were
required to provide support services to army camps in all six townships in
Kayah State. 

* Chin State. According to an eyewitness report, households in Paletwa
were forced to provide porters to support army movements. 

* Arakan (Rakhine) State. There were copious reports of recent demands for
porters and construction/maintenance work on army camps in Maungdaw,
and Minbya townships. 

* Shan State. Townspeople from several towns in northern Shan State were
reported to have been required to contribute labour to prepare for a visit by
Senior General Than Shwe in April. This ranged from menial tasks aimed at
beautifying the area to providing transport free of charge to his convoy. 

* Mon State. According to first-hand reports, villagers were forced to cut
bamboo to supply army camps in southern Mon State. 

* Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) Division. There were reliable reports in early May
that displaced Karen villagers continue to be used for the porterage of
military supplies. 

     (b) Work on agricultural and other production projects

31. Documents submitted by the ICFTU contain information gathered in
conducted and reports published by non-governmental organizations and the
National League for Democracy concerning the continued imposition of forced
labour on villagers in Kayin (Karen) State, Kayah State, Pegu Division, Arakan
State, Shan State, and Yangon (Rangoon) Division for agricultural and other
production projects undertaken by the military, including work on army rubber
plantations, the digging of irrigation ditches to grow rice, the clearing of
fields and virgin lands, the growing of beans or other vegetables for the
and the digging of ponds and raising of fish, in conditions similar to those
described in paragraphs 394 to 406 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry.

32. In his report submitted in January 1999(19)  the United Nations Special
Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar mentioned that
in Shan State apparently had been forced in September 1998 to plant yellow
beans for the army, then tend the plots and do weeding and fencing for troops
at local bases. Also, throughout 1998, the Special Rapporteur received reports
of villagers from several (named) villages being forced to work for (named)
army battalions for periods of up to two weeks splitting rocks near the
River crossing of Ta Sarng in Shan State. The rocks were conveyed by the army
to big cities like Yangon (Rangoon) where they were sold for 12,000-15,000
kyats per truckload.(20) 

33. In reply to the Director-General's request for information, a government,
referring to paragraphs 394 to 407 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry,
mentioned the following examples of forced labour associated with agricultural
and income-generation projects from the last ten months: 

* Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) Division. The army and police were reported to be
forcing villagers from Mawlamyainggyun      township to contribute labour to a
range of income-generating projects, including agriculture, livestock
fish farming and brick production. The army was reportedly also demanding that
local truck owners transport finished bricks without payment. 

* Arakan (Rakhine) State. According to several reports, villagers in Maungdaw
township had to provide labour for government-owned peanut fields and
in Eastern Arakan (Rakhine) State had to work on summer rice and sugarcane

* Sagaing and Magway Divisions. Detailed reports were received in December of
villagers being taken against their will to work on land reclamation projects
in Kalay, Monywa and Gangaw townships. The projects are to raise income for
local government and for civil servants' welfare organizations. Some workers
are paid. But the projects are highly unpopular and at least ten of the
have reportedly died from malaria.  

* Shan State. There were first-hand reports of forced labour on new
agricultural projects near Hopong and Taunggyi run by private entrepreneurs
closely connected with the Government. In Hopong there were also instances
where farmers were reported to be forced to grow soya beans under contract for
the army. 

     (c) Construction and maintenance of roads, railways and bridges

34. According to a report submitted by the ICFTU which was published in
1999 by the Human Rights Foundation of  Monland, on "The conscription of
labour on the repair of Ye-Tavoy railway road": 

The embankment, which was built only with manual labour without using
has been yearly destroyed by flood and the villagers were forced to rebuild.
However, the destruction of the embankment in June-July 1998 was huge.
Therefore, the local SPDC authorities and military battalions mainly from LIB
Nos. 406, 407, 408, 409, 410 and 273 have given instructive orders to
village tract leaders to send labourers to the set construction site to
the embankment again. The using of villagers in the construction started since
June-July 1998 until the end of the year. 


A total of estimated 3,000-4,000 local inhabitants -- men, women, minors and
elder persons alike -- have been subjected to contribute their labour without
payment or foods, to rebuild the embankment after the rainy season ended in
October. During the rainy season from June to September, the military has used
about 1,500 to 2,000 villagers to rebuild some parts where the water level did
not reach the embankment. After June, rain became lesser and lesser so the
military has gradually increased its use of forced labour to speed up the
rebuilding process since October with plans to run their train before the end
of 1998.

The military defined many construction sites depending on the embankment parts
which were destroyed by flood. There have been many construction sites between
Yebyu and Paukpingwin, which is about 75 miles long and depending on the
or lesser destruction, the necessary villages were sent to the sites. In some
sites, where huge embankments were destroyed, the military put about 800
villagers and guarded and forced them to contribute labour. 

When the military planned and started using the villagers, the respective
military battalion instructed every village tract headmen to send the lists of
the total household and population numbers in the villages. After the
battalions received households and population list, they could estimate the
number of villagers they could get from each village to work in the
construction. The methods of conscription of the villager labourers by the
local SPDC authorities and military battalions have been very similar from
village tract to another. As they already received the list of household
numbers in the villages in a particular area, they just sent instructive
to the village tract or village headmen to send how many labourers to which
worksite for how many days. After receiving the instructive orders, the
concerned village  headmen have to arrange to select the villagers to go to
worksite. Normally, the selection of labourers from the villages was based
on a
rotation basis. Almost all villagers in any village in Yebyu, Longlon, Thayet
Chaung and Tavoy townships have had to work in the construction sites about
to 15 days in every month.

35. According to reports on the conscription of forced labour for widening the
Ye-Tavoy motor road, published in January 1999 by the Mon Information Service
(Bangkok) and in February 1999 by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland
(quoted below) that have been submitted by the ICFTU:

Since mid-November, 1998, SPDC local battalions in Tenasserim Division planned
to widen Ye-Tavoy motor road, which is about 90 miles long and have used the
civilians in Yebyu and Tavoy township area as unpaid labourers to complete the
construction. The order came from SPDC's Coastal Region Military Command based
in Mergui town and its commander, Maj. Gen. Sit Maung, also gave
to Col. Maung Oo, the commander of Strategic Command in Yebyu area, to
this construction. In mid-November, Col. Maung Oo also called a meeting with
all village leaders in Yebyu township and instructed them to send the villager
labourers to the construction sites. 


The local military battalions have conscripted many hundreds of villagers to
the construction sites to widen the motor road. The local authorities also
shared the work duties to villagers that each family in Yebyu and Tavoy
townships had to take responsibility to build widening about 20-metre long
road. A member or more than one member of each family had to clear 1 metre of
land along both side of the road and fill with small pieces of stones. Then,
the villagers have to take responsibility to dig the earth to create water
canals along the road. They have to dig the earth to get 2 feet width and 1
foot depth water canal alongside of the road after they completed widening the
road. From these water canals, the villagers have to clear foliage for another
50 feet in both sides of the road. In building the new wider road, the
villagers      have to carry small kyins of small pieces of stones from
of the road and laid these stones on the road. They have to collect these big
stones from hills or streams which are at least half a mile or 1 mile from the
construction site. The villagers collected these stones and crushed these into
small pieces of stones and then brought to the construction site.

Sometimes, all villagers from a village collected these stones and brought
together to the construction site with ox carts. If the villagers could not
stones or were in a hurry to complete the construction, they have to buy small
pieces of stones from the nearest military battalions. Generally, the
have to pay at least 800-1,000 kyat for one kyin of stones to the battalions
which take responsibility for guarding the villagers along the road. And the
villagers have to pay transportation costs to load and bring these small
of stones to the place in which they have to lay. 


During the construction ... battalions also conscripted some villagers and
work duties to gather stones besides constructing the road. After they
stones, they have to give it to the battalions. Then, the battalions sell
stones again to other villagers who urgently needed the stones. According to
reliable sources, the local battalions also received government budget, about
200,000 kyat per mile to complete the widening of the road, but these
battalions conscripted forced labour from local villages and did not pay any
labour cost to the villagers. 


Before they left for the worksites, the villagers were also instructed by
headmen to carry their own food, cash and tools because the military would not
provide any food or tools for villagers. The villagers said they might have to
carry about 30 kilos of rice to the worksite which might be enough to eat for
one week and 1,000 kyat to buy supplement food such as cooking oil,
etc. Because of this construction, the villagers have less and less time for
their own to get income or crops for survival. As a result, some villagers
fled from the native village to escape  from the constant conscription of
forced labour for this Ye-Tavoy motor road and other type of forced labour
often has been required by the SPDC battalions.

36. Information submitted by the ICFTU, contained in interviews conducted and
reports published by the Karen Human Rights Group, gives details concerning: 

*the continued use of forced labour of townspeople and villagers from
surrounding areas for the construction of the Toungoo Mawchi road (suspended
during the rainy season, June to October 1998, but since resumed); 

* the imposition, between December 1998 and March 1999, of up to one month's
forced labour on villagers in various places of Nyaunglebin District (Pepu
Division) for digging dirt and making new "car roads";  
* forced labour by villagers in July to September 1998 on the old road
connecting Saw Hta, Kwih Lat Der and Htee Hta Baw in Dooplaya District, Kayin
(Karen) State;  
* the imposition starting January 1999, of forced labour on some 20
villages in
Kyauk Kyi township to build a new road from Na Than Gwin to Mone. This is an
excerpt from the interview conducted with a villager by the Human Rights 
Section of the Federation of Trade Unions -- Burma (FTUB): 

The road is 15 feet wide, 24 feet wide at the base [of the embankment], and
raised by 4.5 feet. It is at least 20 miles long. The work was divided and
family had to dig the earth and make a segment of road 54 feet long. Therefore
villagers had to bring cattle, rakes, baskets, hoes, etc. and work until their
quota was finished. The villagers were even ordered to work at night in
February, so the villagers brought lamps, batteries and fluorescent tubes to
the worksite and had to work nights. There were no materials supplied and
was no payment for the construction. The intelligence soldiers watched while
villagers were working but they did not beat anyone, because the work was by
the quota system  so if a family could work faster then they were allowed
to go
back earlier. Therefore entire families came to the work, so children, women
and old people around 50-60 years old could be seen on the worksite.

In March the earth work was almost finished, except the bridges. For bridge
construction, the intelligence soldiers confiscated wood, even small pieces,
from houses and ordered villagers to build bridges. Some villagers had to cut
down trees in the forest for bridge construction. Then each family was ordered
to give 500 Kyats to buy materials for the construction. Moreover, each family
had to send a person for three days for bridge construction. There were around
ten bridges or maybe more. If a family could not work on bridge construction,
they had to give 200 Kyats per day to hire a substitute person. The road
construction crossed rice fields and farms but no compensation was given to
owners of the land.

37. As indicated in paragraph 26 above, the ICFTU has submitted a considerable
number of orders addressed to village heads by military officers. Several of
these, addressed to village heads in Pa'an and Thaton District of Kayin
State in October 1998, order people from the village to be sent with their own
tools to clear the shrub along car roads, or intimate that "the road worker
group must go to work at the worksite". Similarly, forced labour imposed in
September 1998 on villagers for road repair in Toungoo District is reported in
an interview conducted by the KHRG and submitted by the ICFTU.

38. The ICFTU has also submitted a report of April 1999 by the Shan Human
Rights Foundation, stating that: 

SPDC troops in Kun-Hing township are forcing many children, some as young as
7-8 years old, to break stones for paving roads. Since 4 April 1999, Kun
Hing-based battalions IB246 and LIB524 have been forcing displaced people who
have been forcibly moved to the outskirts of the town from the areas such as
Sai Khao, Kaeng Kham and Kaeng Lom over the last two to three years to break
rocks and stones to be used in paving the Kung Hing-Nam Zarng and      Kung
Hing-Kaeng Tung main roads. The SPDC troops said that the children of the
relocated people were useless and had nothing to do, and as they could not go
to school they must be made to work. Almost 200 children, including 7-8 year
olds, are being forced to split stones.

39. In reply to the Director-General's request for information, a government,
referring to sources from all over Myanmar, quoted,the following examples of
forced labour during the last ten months, corresponding to paragraphs 408 et
seq. of the report of the Commission of Inquiry: 

* Yangon Division. It was reported that each dry season since 1990, villagers
from Htantabin township have been forced to provide labour for earthworks
projects and for roadbuilding. Some projects are quite distant from the
villagers' homes; transport costs and food are the villagers' own

* Mon State and Tanintharyi (Tennasserim) Division. There were first-hand
reports of forced labour associated with a major project to widen the trunk
road south between Ye and Dawei and between Myeik and Kawthoung. Villagers are
being required to work on the road and/or collect road-building materials, or
alternatively pay a fine. 

* Kayah and Kayin (Karen) States. According to earlier reports villagers had
been forced to work on a new road through Thaundaung township (Kayin (Karen)
State) into Phasawng township (Kayah State) although some work has apparently
now stopped due to a resumption of fighting. It was also reported that work on
a road to the Shadaw relocation site (Kayah State) has begun, using relocated
villagers who are sporadically paid with rice. 

* Arakan (Rakhine) State. There were first-hand reports of a major
road-building project under way to link Kyauktaw,

* Mrauk Oo and Minbya and that villagers have had to provide labour and to
collect gravel and other road-building materials, without any payment. There
were also several reports of other smaller road and bridge-building
projects in
Maungdaw and Buthidaung, for which labourers were sometimes paid. 

* Chin State. In Paletura township, southern Chin State, villagers had to
provide labour and to collect road-building materials for a new trunk road. 

* Shan State. There were reports of road projects using forced labour in
Kyaukme and Hsipaw townships. 

* Kachin State. There were first-hand reports of forced labour associated with
the new bridge in Myitkyina opened in October, including work on support

 * Mandalay Division. There were reports of villagers being forced to provide
labour and collect road-building materials to improve a trunk road in
Thabeikkyin township. 


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